J Street Accepted in Some, Not All, Cities

Liberal Group Finds Shifting Goalposts for Israel Support

Not Welcome in Nashville: Jewish groups in some cities and universities have frozen out J Street, the self-described ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ group. But others have embraced it. What gives?
courtesy of j street
Not Welcome in Nashville: Jewish groups in some cities and universities have frozen out J Street, the self-described ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ group. But others have embraced it. What gives?

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published December 23, 2011, issue of December 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In November, J Street found itself rejected again. The recent decision by the Jewish Student Union at the University of California, Berkeley was but the latest in a handful of incidents in which the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace organization has been frozen out of local Jewish institutions in such places as Tennessee and Boston.

Depending on whom you ask, these instances point either to a wholesale rejection of J Street — and of those who identify with its position — by the Jewish communal world, or they are a series of small setbacks for an organization making gradual headway among Jews nationwide.

“It is going to be a series of skirmishes and battles and fights in cities all over the country,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said. “But the main tide is running in the direction of greater openness and a broader definition of what it means to be pro-Israel.”

Roz Rothstein, national director of StandWithUs, a more hawkish pro-Israel advocacy group, disagreed. “I think that J Street has to take account of what its priorities are in order to gain greater acceptance,” she said. “I don’t hear them putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. They only blame Israel for the lack of peace.”

J Street has been a touchstone of controversy in the American Jewish community since its founding in 2008, when it declared its intention to offer dovish Jews an avenue for critical support of Israel. Other dovish groups, focused mostly on education and outreach, often take similar positions. But unlike, say, Americans for Peace Now, J Street is an unabashed lobbying organization. It seeks to influence Congress and the administration to pressure Israel, no less than the Palestinians, toward concessions to achieve a two-state solution to the regional conflict. J Street also maintains a separate political action committee to raise money for congressional candidates reflecting its views. That has raised the hackles of StandWithUs and other more hawkish pro-Israel groups. They say the job of a pro-Israel group is to support Israeli policies.

In fact, J Street’s profile is not uniformly dovish; the organization has staked out leftist positions on certain issues, such as calling on the Obama administration not to veto a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning settlements. But J Street also staunchly opposes the campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, known popularly as BDS. On some issues, it has tacked right. In September, it opposed the Palestinian Authority’s effort to gain recognition as a state from the U.N. Security Council.

It’s impossible to predict how the discourse on J Street will shake out, but one thing is certain: The battle over J Street’s acceptance is taking place at the most granular level of the Jewish community.

On November 16, Berkeley’s umbrella group for Jewish student life decided by a one-vote margin to bar the university’s chapter of J Street U from joining as a member organization. (The final tally was 10–9, with two members abstaining from the vote.) This was the first time a Jewish student group barred J Street U outright. But the organization has had a mixed reception when it has attempted to make inroads at other universities.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.